Cape Town – If tighthead prop Vincent Koch is the most
endangered front-row forward in the Springbok team, then coach Allister Coetzee
and his advisors run the risk of being like the plumbers who fix the wrong
Reports from Brisbane suggest that a maiden start for Lourens
Adriaanse at No 3 is being considered by the Bok brains trust for the Castle
Rugby Championship clash with Australia on Saturday (12:05 SA time).
If that turns out to be the case, I would argue pretty
vehemently that they would be doing quite the opposite of getting their ducks
in a suitable row in that area of play … they’d only be scattering them
For me the palpable, consistent under-delivery at the heart
of the engine room this year has come far more from loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira
and his similarly seasoned colleague and captain at hooker, Adriaan Strauss.
Instead of these two richly experienced figures (139 caps
between them) leading the forward charge, as examples to certain more rookie
figures around them, they have exuded only mediocrity – sometimes at very best,
frankly -- for the bulk of the five-Test season thus far.
Mtawarira has looked a particularly jaded,
going-through-the-motions figure, lacking significant dynamism at scrum-time
and his once-spirited, chant-inducing carries reduced, if I may stick to
plumbing parlance for a second, to a mere trickle.
Strauss, meanwhile, can probably count himself fortunate
that his lineout accuracy – naturally a core area for the mean wearing No 2 –
has largely remained excellent for the Boks in 2016.
But he is offering little else in other facets of play and
even his leadership has hardly seemed ball-of-fire stuff during a particularly
stuttering campaign to this point.
Sorry, but the moment he revealed -- just as the already
rather spooked Boks set off for Australasia a few days back -- that he was
packing it in internationally at year’s end, should also have been the cue for
Coetzee to immediately activate a Plan B with the future in mind.
It seems, instead, that Strauss will stay on for the time
being for the sake of “stability” and the like … despite instability and
indecisiveness having been all too obvious, general features of South Africa’s
play in the three Tests against Ireland and two against Argentina.
Even if only on a caretaker basis as Coetzee awaits returns
to fitness later this year -- or even next – of other contenders for the
captaincy, many enthusiasts would have preferred to see the coach empower
Warren Whiteley with the task of fronting the cause against the Wallabies (we
might get some useful pointers to his suitability as regular skipper further
down the line).
You would think with such Test novices as Bongi Mbonambi –
one fleeting whiff of international combat off the bench thus far – and
uncapped Malcolm Marx as the current back-ups, it is massively urgent now for
the Boks to properly blood them as rapidly as possible.
While plenty of observers would be more partial to the
Lions’ brawny Super Rugby standout Marx, in fairness Mbonambi should be next in
line for a start at hooker as he has been the designated substitute for several
If he did crack the starting XV nod – albeit now unexpectedly,
reading between the lines – for Brisbane, he would also have the advantage of
throwing in at the lineout to primary jumpers Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du
Toit (if preferred to Lood de Jager) who he is well familiar with at franchise
level with the Stormers.
Further, I would be hugely partial to a first-time start at
this troubling juncture for Steven Kitshoff, the barrelling loosehead from
Bordeaux who has looked both lively in open play and sturdy at set-piece in three
appearances as a substitute – he was my Bok player-of-the-match from just 36
minutes off the splinters in the Salta defeat.
So what about the Koch case? If the tighthead curiously ends
up being the lone front-ranker shafted, the Bok wise men will open themselves
to rightful accusations of short memories.
Only two Tests back, the blond powerhouse answered a crisis
call after just 32 minutes when Julian Redelinghuys left the Mbombela Stadium
battleground through injury, and imposed himself very forcefully in the scrums.
It is true that Koch failed fairly glaringly to match such
standards a week later when he started the Salta “rematch” against the Pumas,
but he was certainly no worse (and perhaps a shade better) than either of
Mtawarira or Strauss on that universally unedifying day for the green-and-gold
He was also fingered, arguably to an excessive extent, for
popping out of defensive alignment during the lead-up to one of the Pumas’
tries, although if you are going to spend too much time citing a tighthead prop
for a gaffe in that area, aren’t you also covering too much for more mobile
customers not cutting the mustard around him?
With the Boks having moved on now from veteran Jannie du
Plessis, and with both Redelinghuys and Frans Malherbe currently unavailable,
tighthead is an area that could do with a more settled feel for a few matches.
Warts and all, Koch has shown enough potential to warrant
that benefit, rather than be one of the possible “fall guys” for the Wallabies
date and surrender his spot to Adriaanse, who may be a decent enough scrummager
but cannot hold a candle to Koch for explosive ball-carrying power near the
From the available squad in Australia, this is the XV I
would have liked to see deployed on Saturday, although I suspect I may not be close
to seeing own wishes satisfied:
15 Jesse Kriel, 14
Bryan Habana, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Johan
Goosen, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (capt), 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Jaco Kriel,
5 Pieter-Steph du Toit 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1
It seems the actual Bok XV named on Wednesday will be closer
15 Johan Goosen, 14
Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Francois Hougaard/Lwazi
Mvovo, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6
Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit/Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent
Koch/Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
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